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James Cowan

The Hon. James  Cowan, Q.C., B.A., LL.B., LL.M., LL.D. Senator James Cowan has greatly influenced the educational and legal communities of Nova Scotia. He was appointed to the Senate on March 24, 2005 by the Rt. Hon. Paul Martin.

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Human Rights in Iran—Inquiry

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Statement made on 03 May 2012 by Senator Joan Fraser

Hon. Joan Fraser (Acting Deputy Leader of the Opposition):

Honourable senators, as I said last week, I owe an apology to Senator Frum. She has been very patient while I let this item stand on the Order Paper for too long. I would not want her to think I did so because I underestimated the importance of her inquiry.

However, as it turns out, I am rather pleased that it is today I am finally able to speak to this inquiry. As honourable senators know, today is World Press Freedom Day, and there are few topics on which Iran raises more questions than press freedom.

To mark today's occasion, the Committee to Protect Journalists has just released its list of the 10 Most Censored Countries. Iran is number four, coming after Eritrea, North Korea and Syria. According to Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists, Iran is at the top of the list as a country with the most imprisoned journalists. Perhaps even more shocking is that the journalists themselves are not the only ones subject to silencing tactics. Human Rights Watch has reported that "The Iranian government has been intimidating and detaining relatives and friends of foreign-based Persian-language journalists."

In other words, Iran is not a safe country in which to practise journalism. There are many examples of journalists who pay a terrible price for practising their craft. Today I want to tell honourable senators about one very recent case.

Kaveh Rezaie is a student journalist and a blogger. He is 26 years old. He studied mechanical engineering before being expelled from university.

He was expelled because he is an activist for civil and human rights and for women's rights. He was, for example, part of the One Million Signatures Campaign, also called "Change for Equality," a movement in Iran to collect 1 million signatures in an effort to change laws which discriminate against women. He even helped to found a university men's group in solidarity with the One Million Signatures Campaign.

Kaveh was involved in shedding light on the case of Zahra Bani Yaghoub, an Iranian woman and medical doctor who was taken as a political prisoner. It was reported that she had allegedly committed suicide in prison, but her family and Iranian activists strongly suspect that she was murdered by Iranian authorities. Kaveh wrote about Dr. Bani Yaghoub in his blog.

When he was a student reporter, Kaveh used to write for ISNA, an official Iranian national university publication, but he was fired from that job.

Last week, on April 24, Kaveh was taken to the notorious Karaj central prison to serve an 18-month sentence that had been issued to him by the Iranian judiciary. According to reports from Tehran, he was transferred from the quarantine ward to a small cell where he is being held with drug addicts and dangerous criminals. Reports indicate that Kaveh is the only known political prisoner in the Karaj central prison. According to confirmed sources, he has endured psychological abuse on a daily basis, and there are fears that he is at risk of physical harm.

A close friend of his was quoted online yesterday by activists. The friend said:

Kaveh Rezaie is an educated young man who was a soldier of justice. He sought the truth in all his endeavours and he never expected anything in return. As a result they have thrown him in a prison cell with drug addicts!

This is not, by the way, Kaveh's first arrest. He was arrested once before in 2008, again for his blogging and civil activism.

Iranian authorities have increased the pressure on him for continuing to discuss the Iranian government"s unjust treatment of his people, and Iranian activists suspect his recent persecution is linked to the content in his blog and, particularly, the post regarding the late Dr. Bani Yaghoub.

Kaveh wrote mainly about the everyday struggles of Iranian citizens. He felt it was his duty as a concerned Iranian citizen to speak out about the truth. Now he has been prevented from continuing his work. Now it is our obligation to give a voice to those who have been silenced, to all those who have been silenced, but particularly on this day, of all days, to all those journalists in Iran who have been silenced.

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